But these are not just any gardens. They’re gardens inspired by the likes of Claude Monet and Vincent Van Gogh. In fact, each panel showcases a garden inspired by a famous artist as interpreted by the local artist who composed it.
“We felt it shows kids there’s not just one way to see a garden — There’s all different ways,” said Steven Pomerenke, a local architect who was involved in the artwork’s creation. “It’s a way to open their minds to diversity.”
For more than six years, Muirlands Middle School, located at 1056 Nautilus St., has worked with local artists, parents and students to beautify the entire campus through a variety of art-based projects. These efforts have drawn a large level of involvement — from Muirlands administrators such as Judy Tarvin who say the benches and murals raise school spirit, to students who say these projects better their surroundings.
The idea was launched by former Muirlands parent Dorie Gayner, who spearheaded the campaign during her involvement in one of the very first beautification projects at Muirlands. All Gayner did was paint a wall purple, but as soon as it was complete the campus was buzzing with chatter about it.
When the positive feedback began pouring in from students and parents, Gayner and several others created a beautification committee within the Muirlands Foundation, a nonprofit dedicated to enhancing the school and school grounds.
Now the foundation, along with generous funding from patrons, has helped support several projects, such as the wall mural that runs alongside Nautilus Street, to the dolphin and wave painting in front of the main building, which was designed by Pomerenke in 2004 and has become an integral facet of the campus’s façade.
Wandering around the campus, one can see the fruition of all this hard work by the sheer number of both subtle and not-so-subtle art installations.
One especially bright, colorful mural features underwater sea life that was also created by Pomerenke and several students who were involved with the Muirlands mural and mosaic clubs.
Pomerenke said the piece was inspired by not only the abundance of sea life just down the way in La Jolla Cove, but the diverse array of students at Muirlands.
“Yes, it is a panorama of the cove’s life, but all the different fish are just like teenagers,” he said. “Some of them are big and colorful like the octopus, and some are small and shy and go with the flow, like the school of little fish. It was designed to hold up a mirror to the students so they could see and be inspired by all the variety they have right here in front of them.”
Currently, the school’s final project for the year will be a series of mosaic benches in one of the newly renovated gardens. One bench will be themed in green and titled “Follow Your Path,” and will include a quote from Robert Frost’s famous poem, “The Road Not Taken.” The other bench will have a multicolored palette and be titled “Muirlands Is.”
“We try to incorporate inspirational quotes or words on each project we do,” said Jane Wheeler, a local artist and head of the school’s mosaic club. “We feel like it gives the projects some depth. Plus, we try to get inspiration from the school’s five P’s: be prepared, positive, polite, prompt and productive.”
On Nov. 2, Wheeler began the time-consuming installation process. She juggled concrete mix and sealant all while providing detailed instruction to the kids about the importance of moving quickly yet carefully. The benches are expected to be completed by Thanksgiving and will be Wheeler’s final project, as her daughter will be graduating eighth grade this year.
“None of this would be possible without principal Chris Hargrave’s blessing,” said Wheeler. “Chris gives us so much encouragement and lots of artistic free reign.”
As the tiles were being grouted on the bench, several students stopped to watch, calling the project “awesome.”
Jordan Vieto, one of the club’s young installers, said she’s worked on three projects thus far, and she said she does it because she hopes to become an artist herself.
Allison Endo, an eighth-grader, said the Muirlands beautification projects make the school look brighter.
“It was really ugly before. All the walls were bare,” she said.
Both Pomerenke and Wheeler said they are amazed that none of the murals have been tagged with graffiti.
“I think these projects haven’t been destroyed because they weren’t something done to the school,” said Pomerenke. “They were done with the school.”